The Insider: Getting into scrapes
We are all good at complaining about end of contract damage charges, but the thing is, whether damage is incurred during the contract or at the end, we still have to pay for it one way or the other. So the real issue is persuading drivers to avoid damage in the first place.
I don’t know about you, but I lose count of the people I hear say “so and so happened and the car was a mess, but hey it’s a company car, so who cares.” These aren’t my drivers, just people I meet in the course of everyday life. And as usual, while salary, bonus and other benefits are important to them, they don’t stop to think that keeping business costs down is what keeps the other stuff up. You can imagine I am not backward in pointing this out to them.
In order to give us a steer on what is acceptable and what is not, the BVRLA has for many years published its own Fair Wear and Tear Guide, adopted by most of its leasing company members, so we should know where we stand, and it used to be freely available at no charge.
In a former employment, I routinely scanned a copy to drivers when they took delivery of a new car, so they knew the condition expected upon its return. I thought I might start doing that again recently, and was disappointed to learn that we now have to pay for the privilege of procuring copies. Not helpful.
Our existing pre-return vehicle paperwork explains the general condition expected, details the necessity for returning all sets of keys, the locking wheel nut and the service history record. It requires a detailed walk around with the employee’s line manager (which will be one of several carried out during the vehicle’s life) and since I introduced that explanation and requirement, end of lease costs have dropped significantly. I also ask for photographs from the driver if there is any damage they are concerned about, so I can discuss it with the provider later, if any query is raised.
My own experience of exiting contracts with providers was that they pretty quickly lost interest in being completely fair with us, and would charge more heavily if they could get away with it. It seems an odd stance to take, since you are unlikely to consider them again in the future. The last time that happened to me, the vehicle remarketing manager and I ended up developing a “none taken” relationship as I challenged each and every charge for vehicles returned, and we were able to settle fairly. But if I hadn’t done my job as a fleet manager and bothered to challenge, the higher charges would have stood. So, know what you are expected to pay for.
I have no problem settling fair charges. The overall contract cost is based on specifics, and if we don’t adhere, we should pay. Sometimes it’s easier to send a car back with known damage because if we hang on to it for longer, then we are still paying rental costs as well as hiring in a replacement vehicle whilst it’s off the road, which costs us even more. But if I’m going to do that, then the lease provider gets prior warning, since waiting on repairs delays their end of lease process and subsequent sale too.
So, do we charge our drivers for end of lease damage? Our fleet policy reserves the right to do so, but in practice we very rarely do. Clear guidelines on condition and those regular and end of lease inspections really have helped reduce charges, and the majority of cars are returned within BVRLA guidelines. Our drivers appear to be taking pride in their company vehicles and the impression it gives of them and the company itself. I am either lucky, or experience is counting. Perhaps, in the words of that famous golfer, Gary Player, “the harder I practice, the luckier I get.”